Black and White are two orphans who roam the streets of Treasure Town, beating down any thug or yakuza who gets in their way. When mysterious foreign entrepreneurs appear with the intention of tearing the city down and replacing it with an amusement park, Black and White face their greatest adversaries yet. The self-destructive, violent, and impulsive Black takes it upon himself to save the fate of the city, while the simpleminded and gentle White starts to realize that he must also save Black from his own dark personality.
There is a very tricky distinction between what I find to be refreshingly simple and what I conversely find to be irritatingly simplistic. I'll admit that this is, unfortunately, one of the most subjective criticisms I can make, and there is one particular film that is a perfect example of how how tricky it is, demonstrating that a story which fascinates others may very well seem banal to me and that perception of that aspect can be entirely dependent on the viewer. That film is Tekkon Kinkreet, a 2006 film directed by the American-born Michael Arias, which takes an ambitious if slightly sloppy artistic leap and yet stumbles when it fails to find a complementary narrative purpose, satisfying itself with a simple allegory that is, in my opinion, too bland and derivative to make a compelling story.
Tekkon Kinkreet certainly does stand out visually. The film's characters are quite strange-looking, with the combination of narrow, almond-shaped eyes, legs that are too thin to logically support human bodies, and geometrically-framed hair and facial expressions almost making them into beasts of imagination rather than people. It's as if all of art's points and sharp edges ended up here when the general appearance of Japanese animation developed its signature smoothness, and the result, if not exactly pretty, is at least interesting. Quite frankly, I found the film's characters to all be well-detailed but monstrously ugly: one could make the tired joke that this is a film about snot-nosed brats, but I could literally point out to her that all of the children have gobs of phlegm travelling down their faces for good chunks of the movie. And yet I don't think that attractiveness is exactly what Tekkon Kinkreet intends: it instead strives to be a surrealistic extravaganza, possibly akin to a child's dream. There are, indeed, some rather nifty scenes of characters literally floating in space above Treasure Town, making physically impossible jumps, and swimming through vibrantly colored coral reefs that call this ambition to attention, and these flights of fancy were, unsurprisingly, the parts that I enjoyed the most.
Having heard so much about the film's purported visual wonders, however, I was surprised to find that I was strangely underwhelmed by how much the cinematography actually accomplished. Sure, there was the occasional dream sequence or deformity that brought the joy of being flung into artistic distortion upon me, but I never felt as if the film's animation (which, while adequate, seemed as if it could not quite keep up with the strange visual style) or visual ideas could keep pace with the artistic ambition, and this ended up making it seem like an artbook for a style that I found interesting but not entirely to my tastes. For while Treasure Town itself is a gloriously realized metropolis of graffiti, Chinese statuary, and Brazilian slum shacks, I could never entirely get past the fact that the characters were not only ugly but very limited in expression. I've seen animators like Sylvain Chomet restrain themselves within a very narrow range of facial expression for all but a few seconds, cleverly highlighting key changes in those bare intervals; this film, on the other hand, maintains that narrow range and never transcends it. While I do admire the care with which the art seems to have been taken, an increased percentage of the promised dynamic surrealism would have improved it, and it might even just have gotten me to move past the unappealing style.
There's enough interesting art on display to give this a second star, but the one thing I can never forgive a film for doing is boring me. Add a star if you find the importance of purity to be an effective topic, and add as many as you'd like if you enjoy the art rather than merely find it interesting. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: The subtitled version contains a few utterances of mild profanity, and there are some disturbing (if not particularly graphic) sequences that involve impalement, gun violence, and death, as well as one implicit sex scene. To be honest, however, I find the MPAA's "R" rating to be a little too harsh, and I think that anybody above the age of 13 could probably watch this with relatively few issues.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Tekkon Kinkreet © 2006 Studio 4˚C
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